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kottke.org posts about Walter Murch

Sight & Sound: The Cinema of Walter Murch

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 27, 2020

From Jon Lefkovitz, Sight & Sound is a feature-length documentary film about the legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch, who edited and did sound design for films like The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and The Conversation.

This feature-length documentary, viewed and enjoyed by legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch himself (“The Conversation”, “Apocalypse Now”), was culled by Jon Lefkovitz from over 50 hours of Murch’s lectures, interviews, and commentaries.

That’s the whole film embedded above, available online for free. Here’s the trailer in case you need some prodding. I haven’t watched the whole film yet, but I’m definitely going to tuck into it in the next few days.

See also Worldizing — How Walter Murch Brought More Immersive Sound to Film.

Worldizing - How Walter Murch Brought More Immersive Sound to Film

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2020

I love echo - any kind of reverberation or atmosphere around a voice or a sound effect that tells you something about the space you are in.

That’s a quote from legendary film editor and sound designer Walter Murch. In the 70s, he pioneered a technique called worldizing, for which he used a mix of pristine studio-recorded and rougher set-recorded sounds to make a more immersive soundscape for theater audiences. He used it in The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, and American Graffiti:

George [Lucas] and I took the master track of the two-hour radio show with Wolfman Jack as DJ and played it back on a Nagra in a real space — a suburban backyard. I was fifty-or-so-feet away with a microphone recording that sound onto another Nagra, keeping it in sync and moving the microphone kind of at random, back and forth, as George moved the speaker through 180 degrees. There were times when microphone and speaker were pointed right at each other, and there were other times when they were pointed in completely opposite directions. So that was a separate track. Then, we did that whole thing again.

When I was mixing the film, I had three tracks to draw from. One of them was what you might call the “dry studio track” of the radio show, where the music was very clear and sharp and everything was in audio focus. Then there were the other two tracks which were staggered a couple of frames to each other, and on which the axis of the microphone and the speakers was never the same because we couldn’t remember what we had done intentionally.

Particle Fever

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2014

Last year (spoilers!), CERN confirmed the discovery of the Higgs boson. Physicist-turned-filmmaker Mark Levinson has made a film about the search for the so-called God Particle. Particle Fever follows a group of scientists through the process of discovery and the construction of the mega-machine that discovered the Higgs, the Large Hadron Collider. Here’s a trailer:

Two additional data points: the movie is holding a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and legendary sound designer and editor Walter Murch edited the film. Particle Fever is showing at Film Forum in New York until March 20. (thx, james)

Walter Murch on why 3-D won’t work

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2011

The problem with using 3-D for feature-length films is not so much the technology or its lack of contribution to the storytelling, it’s that human eyes were not designed to focus and converge on images at two different distances. Walter Murch, the legendary sound designer and editor, explains in a note to Roger Ebert:

The biggest problem with 3D, though, is the “convergence/focus” issue. A couple of the other issues — darkness and “smallness” — are at least theoretically solvable. But the deeper problem is that the audience must focus their eyes at the plane of the screen — say it is 80 feet away. This is constant no matter what.

But their eyes must converge at perhaps 10 feet away, then 60 feet, then 120 feet, and so on, depending on what the illusion is. So 3D films require us to focus at one distance and converge at another. And 600 million years of evolution has never presented this problem before. All living things with eyes have always focussed and converged at the same point.

Synchronized blinking during movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 29, 2009

Due to blinking, viewers of a 2.5 hour-long film like the latest Harry Potter will have their eyes shut for up to 15 minutes. But researchers have found that movie goers synchronize their blinks:

The synchronised blinks occurred at “non-critical” points during the silent movie — at the conclusion of an action sequence or when the main character had disappeared from view. “We all commonly find implicit breaks for blinking while viewing a video story,” Nakano says.

In In the Blink of an Eye, film editor Walter Murch wrote about the blink as a natural place to cut between scenes, a marker of the boundary between two ideas.

Michael Kontopoulos

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 20, 2009

From artist Michael Kontopoulos, a video of machines that almost fall over.

A system of sculptures that is constantly on the brink of collapse. My intention was to capture and sustain the exact moment of impending catastrophe and endlessly repeat it.

I do this too, only I use chairs and my own body and frequently tip over and hurt myself. Anything for my art.

Kontopoulos also did something called Conversation Piece, inspired by legendary film editor Walter Murch.

Film editor Walter Murch, who edited many of Francis Ford Copolla’s films, developed a theory about edits while working on The Conversation (1974). He noticed that in many cases, the best place to make a cut was when he blinked. Subsequently, Murch wrote about the human blink as a sort of mental punctuation mark: a signifier of a viewer’s comfort with visual material and therefore, a good place to separate two ideas with a cut.

Fascinating. (via this is that)